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It's common sense really….

Since the launch of the WHO/IARC Report in November last year, every week seems to bring a new crop of headlines linking meat consumption to virtually all known human ailments, based on yet more research from universities and academic institutions across the globe.

This has continued to give the media licence to recycle their flawed interpretation of theWHO/IARC Report, which bracketed consumption of processed meat with asbestos, plutonium, tobacco et alia.

However, some recently published work from the Danish Technical University (DTU) in Copenhagen reached some rather non-alarmist conclusions about the the role of meat in the Danish diet and, unsurprisingly, this received no media coverage whatsoever on this side of the North Sea.

The DTU report entitled ‘The Role of Meat in the Diet’ ('Køds rolle i Kosten') was based on data from The National Survey of Danish Diet and Physical Activity in the period from 2011 to 2013. Although the work was commissioned by the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, it was agreed that, although DAFC, as the sponsoring body, would have the opportunity to seek further clarification of the results, it would not have any part in the research once the initial brief had been agreed.

Meat, including red meat, processed meat, poultry and foods such as meatballs, steak, roasts and sandwiches, are an essential part of the Danish food culture. In recent decades, as in many other countries, there has been much debate about the health value of a high intake of red and processed meat. Therefore, this study sought to examine the role of meat in the diet in relation to its nutritional value, as well as the lifestyle and eating habits that characterise individuals with either low or high content of red and processed meat in their diet.

The report considered three broad areas:

  • Calculation of the value of different meat types’ nutrient contribution to the diet.
  • Characterisation of groups whose diets have relatively high, medium and low levels of different meat types.
  • Assessment of the nutrient content, as well as diet composition of groups with respectively high, medium and low intake of different meat types, based on the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012 and the Official Dietary guidelines 2013.

In Denmark, few people (2.4%) do not eat red meat and/or processed meat in the course of a week. Approximately 1 in 4 do not eat poultry. The average intake of red and processed meat and poultry is 78, 42 and 22 g per day respectively for people aged 4-75 years.

Young men have the highest absolute intake of all types of meat. Red and processed meat deliver a high contribution (≥30%) of vitamins and minerals (vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, zinc and selenium), and protein to the diet. At the same time, red meat and processed meat in particular, are a major source of saturated fat and sodium.

Adults who have a high content of red and processed meat in their diet are more likely to have a poor lifestyle and be younger, male, smokers, overweight or obese, with no vocational training. In addition, adults with a high content of processed meat in their diet are more inclined to be overweight and obese, and those with a high content of red meat in their diet are more likely to undertake low levels of physical activity. In addition, people with high levels of both red and processed meat in their diet have more inappropriate dietary habits in relation to nutrient recommendations and dietary guidelines, compared with those with lower levels of meat in the diet. None of the characteristics analysed above are associated with the content of the poultry in the diet. It cannot be discounted, however, that this is due to inter-correlation in the data, meaning that people with a high content of poultry in their diet are those with a low content of processed and red meat.

Adults with low levels of red and/or processed meat in the diet are more likely to be older, female, non-smokers of normal weight, live without children and have reached a higher education standard. They are also more likely to comply with nutrient recommendations and dietary guidelines than those with a higher content of meat in their diet. Overall, the results suggest that it is those with poorer lifestyle and eating habits, who choose to eat comparatively more red and/or processed meat.

 

“Danes actually eat less meat than a number of reports claim and the amount of red meat on Danish dinner plates is not as alarmingly high as some have suggested,” says Puk Ingemann Holm, Chief Consultant on Nutritional Matters at the DAFC.

According to the DTU Report, the Danes eat an average of 546 grams of red meat (raw weight) per week and the average Dane consumes less than the 500 grams cooked red meat recommended by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. The 546 grams of meat corresponds to less than 400 grams cooked red meat and this is less than many other calculations have shown.

“This report is based on the Danes’ Eating Habits 2011-2013 in which DTU questioned a representative section of the Danish population on what and how much they eat. We believe that our findings give a true and fair view of how much meat the Danes actually consume,” says Ms Holm.

“The survey also shows that a small group of Danes account for a large proportion of meat consumption, in particular younger males with no or little professional qualifications who take little exercise, eat unhealthily and smoke more than average.

“Danes who eat the most meat would benefit from addressing other areas first if they want to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases. There is more to be gained from giving up smoking or taking regular exercise than by cutting down on meat. A varied diet which includes fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains and lean meat is important. The majority of Danes can continue to enjoy the amount of meat they currently consume without this affecting their health,” adds Ms Holm.

A belated victory for good old common-sense, you might say.

The DTU 'Køds rolle i Kosten' Report will be available in an English version shortly.